Welcome to the website of the Digital Media Law Project. The DMLP was a project of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society from 2007 to 2014. Due to popular demand the Berkman Klein Center is keeping the website online, but please note that the website and its contents are no longer being updated. Please check any information you find here for accuracy and completeness.
In late August, Volkswagen obtained a subpoena from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (Case No.3:07-MC-80213) requiring YouTube to disclose the identity of an anonymous YouTube user who posted a Nazi-themed parody of a Volkswagen commercial. The video has apparently been removed from YouTube and is no longer available.
Among those users whose videos were taken down was the Rational Response Squad (RRS), a group of atheists dedicated to "fighting to free humanity from the mind disorder known as theism." Apparently, the videos flagged for removal were all critical of CSE, and some consisted of expression entirely original to the YouTube poster. Other videos used portions of CSE's own videos to make critical commentary about the organization. When its videos were removed, RRS unleashed a firestorm of criticism, threatening to sue CSE for abusing the DMCA's notice-and-takedown provisions and even contacting the prosecuting attorney in Hovind's tax case to inform her of CSE's conduct. Others have joined in the mix (here, here, and here). It appears that YouTube canceled RRS's entire account for a time (the rationale for doing so is not clear), but later reinstated it.
Reprinting content from other information sources is one of the trickiest areas of communications law -- especially for bloggers and other publishers on the Internet, where the legal framework has yet to be established. InfoMean blog has a useful set of pointers to help publishers avoid infringement lawsuits when reprinting information.
(Matt C. Sanchez is a second-year law student at Harvard Law School and the CMLP's Legal Threats Editor.)
Author Denise McCune posts a great account of the workings and failings of the DMCA's notice-and-takedown procedures.
As Cory Doctorow has also reported on BoingBoing, the VP of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America sent an error-filled takedown complaint to text-sharing site Scribd, causing removal of many non-infringing postings including reading lists suggesting great science fiction, and Cory's own novels, which he's CC-licensed for free redistribution.
The DMCA safe-harbor is most charitably described as an intricate dance for all parties involved: the copyright claimant, the ISP, and the poster. When the dancers are synchronized, its notice, takedown, and counternotice steps give each party a prescribed sequence by which to notify the others of claims and invite their responses. That's why the DMCA requires the claimant to identify the copyrighted works, specify alleged infringements with "information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate the material," and state good faith belief that the uses are unauthorized. When a copyright claimant misses one of those key elements, he starts stepping on toes.
The service provider isn't obliged to respond to deficient notices, but if a notice contains all the right formal elements -- even if it's factually wrong about copyright ownership or copying -- the service provider must choose between taking down the material or losing its DMCA safe-harbor and facing potential lawsuits. Posters who believe their material is non-infringing or fairly posted can counter-notify and even file their own lawsuits for misuse of copyright claims, under sec. 512(f).
I share McCune's hope that the brouhaha will help the SFWA to help authors express all their copyright interests, including that of free sharing:
I hope the SFWA's lawyers are sitting down with Andrew Burt and explaining how the DMCA actually works, so that actual, legitimate violations of copyright (on Scribd and on other sites) can get dealt with swiftly and promptly and the people who have asked SFWA to be their copyright representative can get infringing uses of their material removed. I'm also glad to see that the SFWA ePiracy Committee has suspended operations until they can investigate further -- and, hopefully, come up with an effective process and procedure that benefits both fair and/or transformative use while also protecting the rights of copyright holders to have control over where and how their material is posted -- whether that control is a more traditional "nobody gets to use this, period" or a Creative Commons-style authorization of transformative work.
Brad Spitz reports in his blog that a French court held DailyMotion liable for copyright infringement, despite concluding that the site was a mere "hosting service." DailyMotion is an online video-sharing site similar to YouTube. In a July 13 ruling (in French), the court went out of its way to label DailyMotion a hosting service, an argument DailyMotion itself put forth. In France, hosting services typically enjoy a safe harbor from the infringing acts of users under the French Act of 21 June 2004 on Confidence in the Digital Environment (in French). The Act implements the European Commission directive on electronic commerce and states in part:
Where an information society service is provided that consists of the storage of information provided by a recipient of the service, Member States shall ensure that the service provider is not liable for the information stored at the request of a recipient of the service, on condition that:
(a) the provider does not have actual knowledge of illegal activity or information and, as regards claims for damages, is not aware of facts or circumstances from which illegal activity or information is apparent; and
(b) the provider, upon obtaining such knowledge or awareness, acts expeditiously to remove or to disable access to the information.
The court found DailyMotion was aware of the infringing content, in part because the site deliberately furnished the users with the means to commit the acts of infringement. The court stated that the Act's limitation on liability is not available when the infringing activities are created or induced by the provider itself. DailyMotion has appealed.
Notably, the language of the French Act is almost identical to the safe-harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) codified at 17 U.S.C. Sec. 512(c). Google (on behalf of its popular video-sharing site, YouTube) frequently invokes the DMCA safe-harbor provisions as a defense to copyright infringement claims brought against it. At the end of the day, the French court ruling has no direct effect on any U.S. court's interpretation of the DMCA, but it may cause Google to reassess its stance on its liability via YouTube.
Citizen journalists commonly embed video clips to illustrate a story or other posting. Sometimes, the posting itself (and its dissemination on YouTube) is the story. Have you ever wondered whether embedding that video clip might lead to copyright woes? If so, apparently you're not alone. There's been a good deal of discussion relating to this issue on various blogs and websites recently. The discussion took a humorous turn this week when a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge inserted a link in an opinion directing readers to a YouTube video about George Brett's famous "pine-tar incident," only to find that the link was removed from YouTube due to a notice of infringement by Major League Baseball. (For more details see Eric Goldman's blog.)
The Blog Herald recently ran a story suggesting that, indeed, bloggers could be held liable for embedding an infringing video on their sites. The story quoted an IP attorney to the effect that "[a]ny time you incorporate a copyrighted work into a site without the rightsholders' consent, you're potentially liable. . . It doesn't matter where it's hosted." The story further indicated (on the opinion of the same attorney) that it does not matter if the person doing the embedding is aware of the infringing nature of the work because innocent infringement is just as actionable as intentional infringement.
Fred von Lohmann's informative post on EFF's Deep Links makes some good points that go a along way toward lightening up this rather gloomy picture. The post points out that an embedded YouTube video is just a link. So, there is "no copy of the YouTube video being stored on your server (only the HTML code for the embed)." A post on Techdirt last week made a similar observation, noting that "[a]ll you've done is put a single line of HTML on your page."
As von Lohmann writes, this makes embedded video just like any other in-line image links found on the web, including Google Image's search functionality. This is significant because an important recent case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Perfect 10 v. Google Inc., held that Google Image's in-line linking of copyrighted photographic images posted on third-party websites did not constitute direct copyright infringement of the plaintiff's display or distribution rights because no copies of the plaintiff's photographic images were stored on Google's computers. The court wrote:
As David posted, celebrity gossip site PerezHilton.com has battled ISP takedown over claimed copyright infringement. A key problem, the Houston Chronicle reports, is that site-owner Mario Lavanderia is already disputing those claims in federal court, where a judge refused to grant an injunction. Instead, as the judicial process properly works, Lavanderia must be proven a likely infringer before his speech is silenced.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation thinks the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed Internet innovators and users of all stripes a huge victory in a case involving a company called Perfect 10 versus Google:
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